'Don't Say Gay' Bill Sails Through Florida's Republican-Dominated House

Two bills that have sparked controversy in recent weeks both passed through the Florida House on Thursday, as the bills, the so-called "don't say gay" bill and another that guides what is allowed to be taught in public schools about race, were passed with largely Republican support by votes of 69-47 and 74-41, respectively.

The first forbids teachers from talking to students about sexual orientation, which critics have said perpetuates the idea that there is something "wrong" or abnormal about being gay, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The other aims to stop teachers from "persuading or indoctrinating" students with certain beliefs about racism, bias and discrimination, which critics have said would lead to a "whitewashing" of history and ignorance on racial discrimination throughout U.S. history.

The "don't say gay" bill also drew criticism earlier this week for a since-withdrawn amendment that would have required school staff to inform a student's family within six weeks if a student discussed their sexual orientation or gender identity in school. The amendment was withdrawn after a backlash over concerns that it could lead to students being "outed" to their families, some of which may not approve of their child's orientation, which could lead to abuse or neglect.

"We call it the 'don't say gay' bill because it prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity," Democratic Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith, an openly gay man who opposed the bill, said during debate. "But members, this bill goes way beyond the text on the page. It sends a terrible message to our youth, that there is something so wrong, so inappropriate, so dangerous about this topic that we have to censor it from classroom instruction."

The controversy around the bill has reached the highest levels of the U.S. government, with the White House and President Joe Biden weighing in on the bill in recent weeks.

"I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community—especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill—to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are," Biden said in a February 8 tweet. "I have your back, and my administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve."

The other bill about the teaching of race and discrimination in schools had an amendment added that protects the teaching of how individual freedoms have been violated through slavery, along with racial discrimination, segregation and other forms of oppression, according to the Tampa Bay Times. However, the core of the bill maintains that students should not be made to feel "guilt or psychological distress" for the actions of their ancestors throughout history.

Governor Ron DeSantis championed the bill and got a brief standing ovation when he discussed the bill at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, saying the state had "banned CRT" in public schools.

CRT refers to critical race theory, a level of education typically taught in law schools about the discrimination of nonwhite people in the U.S. It also teaches about the ways that systemic racism and bias exist today and has become a point of emphasis for Republican lawmakers in recent years who insist it is being taught to children who are being "indoctrinated" to believe that bad events through history are the fault of white people.

The Florida Senate is already considering a version of the "CRT" bill, and the Senate Appropriations Committee is set to consider the "don't say gay" bill next week, according to the Times.

Updated 2/24/22 at 5:40 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional context and information.

Florida Don't Say Gay Critical Race Theory
A controversial pair of bills passed through the Florida House on Thursday. Above, a huge multi-colored flag flies over Ocean Drive as people participate in the Pride Parade during the Miami Beach Pride Festival in Lummus Park, South Beach, Florida on September 19, 2021. Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images